One of the biggest talking points ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup was the omission of stalwart Devin Toner in Joe Schmidt’s 31-man squad.
33-year-old Toner played a crucial role in Ireland’s superb 2018 and although he struggled with injuries in 2019, his experience and excellence at the setpiece were traits which many expected were too good to ignore when it came to choosing those who were to travel to Japan.
Unfortunately for the Meath native, he didn’t make the cut but he has parked that disappointment by playing a huge role in Leinster’s extremely positive start to the season.
Toner has already notched 362 minutes for the eastern province so far in this campaign and has started in five of their six Guinness PRO14 victories.
Johnny Sexton, who captains Leinster for the visit of Benetton to the RDS on Saturday for the opening round of the Heineken Champions Cup, revealed that his teammate “took the disappointment very hard” but is confident that he will bounce back.
“He’s the same old Dev, really,” Sexton said.
“He’s pretty relaxed. I think he took the disappointment very hard, as you would.
“Look, there are lots of different reasons, really, why he didn’t get picked and it’s up to him to go into [that], I’m not going to get into that.
“But he’s a guy that is well-liked, in Ireland and Leinster, and he’s a guy who has performed at the top level for a long time and he’s so calm when it comes to the set-piece when I’m dealing with him. In terms of lineout calling, he’s brilliant to deal with, no matter what time in the game. He makes some good calls and yeah, it’s good to get back with him.
“It was a big disappointment for him in his career, but I’m sure he’ll bounce back.”
For Sexton himself, he will be looking to hit the ground running in what will be his first appearance for the eastern province this season.
The experienced out-half showed glimpses of his best form in Japan and the warm-up fixtures but it’s safe to say that he is suffering from a bit of inconsistency.
That inconsistency has often been as a result of niggling injuries but the 34-year-old is looking forward to getting back to his best now that he has a clean bill of health.
“I felt really good since the start of the season. I picked up two injuries which were as much luck as anything. When you dislocate your thumb playing touch rugby, there’s not much you can do about that and then when a maul collapses on you… I don’t know what I was doing in a maul in Portugal.
“I ended up hurting my groin and then off the back of that groin, it was niggly at different times as you saw during the World Cup. It wasn’t ideal, but look, I am in good shape. I’m just excited to get back with the lads and get going into another campaign. Every time you come into a European Cup, it feels the same. It hasn’t diminished at all.”
“I thought I played pretty well against Samoa. I thought I played well against Wales in the warm-up game. I thought I had some good bits in a couple of the other games – Scotland and Russia. If I can get back to that form, I will be pretty happy obviously.
“New Zealand didn’t go to plan but Samoa was the week before. Hopefully, I can get back to playing like that and I’ll be happy.”
Leinster’s clash with Benetton kicks off at 3.15 pm and Sexton will hope to have guided his team to a crucial victory to get their quest for a fifth star off to the best possible start.